It was as if it’s my hometown. A tear almost fell as I watch the town passes me by on-board a passenger jeepney. Behind those newly renovated structures were traces of a dreadful nightmare. But Tacloban City is slowly moving forward. Resiliency is innate in us Filipinos.
It was our first night and the normalcy of delayed flights made us famished as we got into town. We checked in at the newest hotel in Tacloban, Ironwood Hotel, stowed our stuff and dashed to find something to eat. This was a first; traveling to Leyte and hitching my mom to what supposedly a weekend trip with the gang.
There was a barbecue stall right across our hotel with foldaway chairs and tables. It felt like the famous Larsian barbecue place in Cebu. We had a hearty dinner of grilled fares wishing they serve beer so that we could carry on with our beer sesh, but no.
After bringing my mom back to the hotel, we scouted the almost deserted area of P. Burgos Street to look for a beer place. It was Friday and some of the bars were empty, it ain;t a party place like Pub Street in Siem Reap. We ended up on a pub and settled on the outside seating area to experience the local vibe. It was a 5-hour drinking spree as we got a quick hold of the party scene in Tacloban.
The next day was hectic.
We planned to visit some of the famous landmarks in town and went as far as the nearby town of Palo.
Sto. Niño Church de Tacloban (Church of Liberation)
Real and Zamora Streets, Downtown, Tacloban City
We found refuge from the scorching hot morning at Sto. Niño Church situated at the corner of Real and Zamora Streets. It houses the miraculous image of Sto. Niño de Tacloban. The spanking white interior with geometric patterns was left in ruins during the horrific Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Restoration efforts made it to its current state.
Sto. Niño Shrine and Romualdez Museum
Real Street, Downtown Tacloban City
We took a multicab (P8 | US$ 0.17 each) and went to Sto. Niño Shrine and Romualdez Museum. The grand mansion was used as a rest house for the first family and their guests during Marcos’ regime, just one of the 29 presidential rest houses during that time. We shelled out P200 (US$ 4.27) for a 3-person entrance fee with a tour guide with additional fees on camera use and stuff. The place is now owned by the government after they sequestered it from the Marcos’.
It was old but you could still feel its grandness. The first level houses a shrine dedicated to Sto. Niño (the image is made from Italian ivory), around it are 12 differently-themed guest rooms with focus on the provinces and products around the Philippines. Woven motifs were everywhere; evident on the walls and the ceiling.
We climbed up the grand staircase where it left us speechless. The huge receiving area was adorned with Chinese vases from Ming Dynasty mixed with intricately-carved ivory pieces. A grand ballroom with two wooden chandeliers from Betis in Pampanga was also remarkable. Those were just three of some jaw-dropping ornaments, and there were thousands.
The rooms of the former first family were next and you could feel the opulence. I could imagine Imelda lounging on her hot tub while someone's brushing her hair on her huge bathroom. I tried to convince myself that this was not a rest house, that it’s a 5-star resort during the 70’s, but it was just a rest house.
I went out, got tired of all its grandness, breathed in for a moment and was left in awe that I needed some time to recuperate. There were ivory and jade carvings resting somewhere, their worth could sustain all of my student’s school expenses until they reach college. I breathed in and out again.
MacArthur Landing Memorial National Site
It was my mom’s idea. She wanted to visit the landing site of former General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte Gulf. So after we visited Sto. Nino Shrine, we took a multicab (P8 | US$ 0.17 each) going to Palo and asked to be dropped off on the road leading to it. We took a tricycle (P10 | US$ 0.21 each) that brought us to the site.
In the middle of intense El Niño heat, we marched toward the landing site and let my momma have her moment. It was so hot that I sought the comfort of a tree where some high school students were practicing of what looked like a school play. I sat on the grass and observed the beach from there. It was raging but calming as well.
My buddy then asked me to go to the Red Beach (coined during the war as the sand turned red from the blood). I declined and chatted with my mom instead.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lord’s Transfiguration
Someone suggested that we should check out Palo Cathedral while we’re there. So we grabbed a tricycle (P50 | US$ 1.07) that brought us downtown.
Originally built by the Jesuits in 1596, the newly-renovated cathedral was one of the structures that was badly hit during the typhoon in 2013 and was visited by Pope Francis in 2015. It was a Saturday and we noticed some florists decorating the church for what seemed to be a wedding. I checked out the chandeliers and the altar and then walked down the aisle.
|The School of Health Sciences, - Palo, Leyte|
The distance unit of University of the Philippines-Manila
San Juanico Bridge
We woke up earlier than usual. My mom was excited. Our plan was simple; to walk from the province of Leyte to Samar, all 2.16 kilometers of it.
We went to the public market at five in the morning and asked around how to get there. The people directed us to a jeepney heading to, I didn’t exactly get to note the place (early morning predicaments) and asked to be dropped off on the road leading to the longest bridge in the country.
The San Juanico Strait was raging. I could feel the rapids crashing through each other. My mom was ecstatic when we were at the peak of the bridge while an arch welcomed us to the province of Samar. We waited for sunrise, to no avail. The sky was overcast and the sheepish glow diffused into it. We were around 300 meters far from Samar when it started to drizzle. I was concerned about my mom but she was unmindful; she's still enthusiastic about crossing the longest bridge in the country. Her energy can be compared to that of a toddler (she’s 61 by the way).
We conquered the rain and ended having our morning coffee on an eatery right at the edge of the bridge where my mom met a townmate from Zambales who’s now settled in Samar with his family. They spoke of their childhood stuff like they were buddies. It’s been 34 years since Kuya Rene left Zambales and never had the chance to come back. And my mom was narrating endlessly about the changes in her town, with so much gusto. What supposedly just a coffee stop ended on sharing tales of this and that. Again, my mom was overjoyed; it's not everyday that you meet someone who has the same childhood as yours.
We went back to downtown and just immersed ourselves into its busy happenings. Traces of what happened two years ago were still evident. I was starting to feel emo about it but no, I chose to be optimistic about everything. I'm praying for hope. I'm praying for strength. I'm praying for unity.